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History

Can David Starkey be called a historian?

History Time (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/731835)David Starkey should not be referred to as a historian when he makes media appearances as a pundit on matters outside his area of expertise because it brings the “profession into disrepute”, according to a letter signed by 100 of his peers.

In the letter in today’s Times Higher Education, academics criticise the “reductionist argument” made by Dr Starkey during his recent appearance on BBC Two’s Newsnight, when he said that the UK riots were caused because “the whites have become black”.

Such a claim is “both evidentially insupportable and factually wrong”, the letter says.

Particular ire is reserved for the BBC for introducing Dr Starkey as a historian when inviting him to comment on matters outside his historical specialism, which is British constitutional history in the Tudor period.

“The problem lies in the BBC’s representation of Dr Starkey’s views as those of a ‘historian’, which implies that they have some basis in research and evidence,” the letter says. “As even the most basic grasp of cultural history would show, Dr Starkey’s views as presented on Newsnight have no basis in either. His crass generalisations about black culture and white culture…would disgrace a first-year history undergraduate.

“It appears to us that the BBC was more interested in employing him for his on-screen persona and tendency to make comments that viewers find offensive than for his skills as a historian.”

Read full story.

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History

In Defence of History (Richard Overy)

“Beset by the twin pressures of democratisation and ‘impact’, the study of the past faces an uncertain future. Richard Overy analyses the threats and offers hope that history will triumph

It is the year 2050. A bright young sixth-former is discussing her choice of university course with her grandmother. She is considering a degree in heritage studies.

“Is it really true that you did a course called history at uni?” she asks.

“Yes,” her grandmother replies. “It looked at bits of the past.”

“But what for?” asks her grandchild. “What was the point? Heritage studies is really useful. I want a job at a Heritage Trail agency when I’ve finished uni. History must have been so dead.”

Fantasy or the future? History today is at a crossroads; the debate about its “function”, its purpose, has sharpened. As an academic discipline it is under assault from two different, although related, directions.

On the one hand there is the “democratisation” of history – history as heritage, a commodity whose primary function is to entertain and inform. On the other there is governmental pressure to make history socially useful, contributing in visible ways to the gross national product while providing the taxpayer with some public display of its utility.”

Read the full story in the Times Higher Education, and also the Editorial ‘leader‘.